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Question for veteran MIDI orchestrators

elfman

Member
For those who have been in this game for decades, would you share a little history about the development of sample technology and the companies involved? I tried to find some information online but couldn't really find anything.
 

wst3

my office these days
Moderator
I'm afraid this particular book has not yet been written. Samples are only part of the story, MIDI is really the star, at least for music production.

Many of the most important pioneers tagged out before the internet, or rather the world wide web, became such a force, so there is not a lot of information on the web. Ironic?

When I started (here we go) it was all MIDI, if you wanted to work with audio you slaved your computer to your tape deck (or if you were lucky, your tape deck to your computer<G>!) I do remember the first sequencers to add audio capabilities, and it was a huge shift.

Samplers? I remember the Kurzweil 250, which was one of the first "affordable" sample players (affordable when compared to Fairlight or New England Digital). Then this bunch from Commodore (the C64, Pet, etc) built a truly affordable sampler, the Mirage. That made some heads spin. In between were samplers from 360 Systems, Emu, and others, each of which chipped away at the price tag, but nothing like the Mirage.

MIDI was extended as well - it started out as a way to send a keypress on one keyboard to the sound generators in a second keyboard - rack mounted synths were a rarity. That it worked is pretty darned cool. That it is still here is remarkable. And over time it has been stretched to include such novel features as notation, sample transfer (long dead since the MIDI data rate is too slow), show control, and control surfaces.

The whole history is pretty remarkable. You can find snippets in boks about Bell Labs or Xerox PARC. But a book or three dedicated to the shifts in technology for music production really would be a fun read.
 

sluggo

Active Member
I did mockups for a few films in the 90's. One of which you have probably seen. I used S-760 and EMU samplers. But sometimes even turned to a Proteus 1 synth or a Kurzweil synth. It all sounded pretty bad but it was better than nothing and proved to be useful.
I used:
Peter Seidlaczek
Kirk Hunter
Roland factory samples
and others I can't remember

Now "Get off my plane!"
 

styledelk

Member
This is also a book I'd like to read, or even just as an observer, maybe write or contribute to. I'm not sure how commercially viable it would be.

I can maybe give what my experience is over the years and at least how I've felt as an amateur. This isn't objective.

Some background:
I started composing and transcribing in 1996-ish with Finale+Cakewalk; I was 16 and had also just started playing piano. It started as a desire to be able to hear the pieces I like played back before I was able to play them (well, technically, I still can't). In the classical circle, these MIDI files were indexed in the Classical MIDI Archives, which still sort of exists: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi.html
You can still hear and see those transcriptions: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi/composer/2906.html, page 5 of the Transcendental Etudes.
For other types of music, you could get PG Music's various software, like Band In A Box, etc.

For playback back then, you'd have to have bought one of the quality Roland GS or EMU devices, that ESQ-1 mentioned above, or a host of other soundboards to get anywhere near interesting. I just used my Soundblaster AWE32, or something thereabouts, at the time. General Midi meant a lot more as a soundset, because there was also... not... general midi, which lost the common patch numbers that were shared amongst most devices at the time. Video game soundtracks were enhanced by having a better GM rig- now you could hear that X-Wing soundtrack on... slightly better synthesized sounds. The AWE32 even had wavetable synthesis.

Of course, yes, Samplers were around-- Kurzweil sounded "great", and you can hear a lot of that sound in things like Soul Coughing and other music of the era.

Stepping back a bit further in the era, and we also had "trackers." These were essentially sample-driven recreations of songs, of which there was a whole community making them (MODs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Module_file) -- oh the number of times I heard Under Pressure this way. I digress.

The point: it sounded OK. You got the idea. But not entirely expressive.
I'll admit, I took a few years off of the scene somewhere 98-2001 and was only buying older synths.
Fast forward to about 2001+ and computers were really able to handle much more. Disk space was cheaper, RAM wasn't measured in megabytes any more, you could buy sample libraries on CD-ROM and DVD. By the time we hit 2004-2006 quite a few decent libraries exist, Native Instruments is starting its dominance, Cubase and Cakewalk have graduated from being MIDI sequencers. Ableton comes to the scene and at this point it feels like innovation slowed down. There was plenty of good Gigasamples and Kontakt libraries here, but the realism was always missing something. The script-writers hadn't fully gotten the hang of the platforms, the platforms weren't offering nearly as much in their APIs to script, and you still had the RAM and new disk space limitations. It was somewhat an era where those expensive KORG, Yamaha, and Roland studio keyboards with everything built on was being prioritized over a larger computer-based ecosystem.

Took a few more years off, so I can't cover 2007-2014 or so. But when I returned in 2014 I was just blown away and didn't know where to begin. Everything that came before sounded old and acoustically wrong. Ableton still feels like it's from the future, but also stuck in its own past. It's amazing how slow some areas are moving. But then I found this forum, Spitfire, Orchestral Tools, etc. I want to throw away 20 years of musical doodling because it sounds terrible. :P

Ok, that's not an objective history, but it's what I got for the moment.
 
OP
elfman

elfman

Member
This is also a book I'd like to read, or even just as an observer, maybe write or contribute to. I'm not sure how commercially viable it would be.

I can maybe give what my experience is over the years and at least how I've felt as an amateur. This isn't objective.

Some background:
I started composing and transcribing in 1996-ish with Finale+Cakewalk; I was 16 and had also just started playing piano. It started as a desire to be able to hear the pieces I like played back before I was able to play them (well, technically, I still can't). In the classical circle, these MIDI files were indexed in the Classical MIDI Archives, which still sort of exists: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi.html
You can still hear and see those transcriptions: https://www.classicalarchives.com/midi/composer/2906.html, page 5 of the Transcendental Etudes.
For other types of music, you could get PG Music's various software, like Band In A Box, etc.

For playback back then, you'd have to have bought one of the quality Roland GS or EMU devices, that ESQ-1 mentioned above, or a host of other soundboards to get anywhere near interesting. I just used my Soundblaster AWE32, or something thereabouts, at the time. General Midi meant a lot more as a soundset, because there was also... not... general midi, which lost the common patch numbers that were shared amongst most devices at the time. Video game soundtracks were enhanced by having a better GM rig- now you could hear that X-Wing soundtrack on... slightly better synthesized sounds. The AWE32 even had wavetable synthesis.

Of course, yes, Samplers were around-- Kurzweil sounded "great", and you can hear a lot of that sound in things like Soul Coughing and other music of the era.

Stepping back a bit further in the era, and we also had "trackers." These were essentially sample-driven recreations of songs, of which there was a whole community making them (MODs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Module_file) -- oh the number of times I heard Under Pressure this way. I digress.

The point: it sounded OK. You got the idea. But not entirely expressive.
I'll admit, I took a few years off of the scene somewhere 98-2001 and was only buying older synths.
Fast forward to about 2001+ and computers were really able to handle much more. Disk space was cheaper, RAM wasn't measured in megabytes any more, you could buy sample libraries on CD-ROM and DVD. By the time we hit 2004-2006 quite a few decent libraries exist, Native Instruments is starting its dominance, Cubase and Cakewalk have graduated from being MIDI sequencers. Ableton comes to the scene and at this point it feels like innovation slowed down. There was plenty of good Gigasamples and Kontakt libraries here, but the realism was always missing something. The script-writers hadn't fully gotten the hang of the platforms, the platforms weren't offering nearly as much in their APIs to script, and you still had the RAM and new disk space limitations. It was somewhat an era where those expensive KORG, Yamaha, and Roland studio keyboards with everything built on was being prioritized over a larger computer-based ecosystem.

Took a few more years off, so I can't cover 2007-2014 or so. But when I returned in 2014 I was just blown away and didn't know where to begin. Everything that came before sounded old and acoustically wrong. Ableton still feels like it's from the future, but also stuck in its own past. It's amazing how slow some areas are moving. But then I found this forum, Spitfire, Orchestral Tools, etc. I want to throw away 20 years of musical doodling because it sounds terrible. :P

Ok, that's not an objective history, but it's what I got for the moment.
Excellent post.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
I used S-760 and EMU samplers. But sometimes even turned to a Proteus 1 synth or a Kurzweil synth. It all sounded pretty bad but it was better than nothing
"Better than nothing," as you wrote, is the best you could say about it @sluggo

It was hideous in them days -- the sounds were so limited and you had to spend even more hours to try to coax music out of them.

I took a long leave of absence -- couldn't stand working like that. Except for a few shows and bigger movies than I was working on, the budgets and schedules made it virtually (har! -- "virtually") impossible to use an orchestra.

When I drifted back, EWQLSO was out and that made it fun again, and of course sampling has improved a lot since then.
 

JT

Senior Member
I remember being at the Namm show in Chicago in the early 80's. The midi standard had just been adopted. I was at the Yamaha booth where they introduced DX7 with it's new FM synthesis and the unlimited possibilities of this new midi thing. I sat watching this presentation a few seats away from Bob Moog, his eyes were filled with the same enthusiasm and magical wonderment dreaming about this new technology like everybody else in the room and what the future would bring. It was a great day!
 

alanb

Senior Member
the development of sample technology

Most-if-not-all of today's "sample technology" owes an infinite debt to inventors James Van Buskirk and Joseph A. Bibbo . . . and these two patents:
  • Synthesizer system utilizing mass storage devices for real time, low latency access of musical instrument digital samples. U.S. Patent number: 5811706 (granted Sept. 22, 1998); and
  • Synthesizer system utilizing mass storage devices for real time, low latency access of musical instrument digital samples. U.S. Patent number: 6008446 (granted Dec. 28, 1999).
Both patents (the second is a 'continuation' of the first) describe the now-familiar system in which (among other things) the first part of each audio file in a library or instrument is loaded into RAM and, when the performer hits a key, that first bit of the file streams immediately from RAM, giving the computer a chance to locate and stream the rest of the file from a hard drive . . . without any perceivable break in the audio stream.

This is the tech that made GigaStudio (R.I.P.) do things that no other program could do, back in the day.....

It appears that these patents were assigned to Native Instruments in 2011 ( <--- scroll to bottom of page ), soon after it settled a patent infringement case brought against it by a previous assignee of the patents.
 
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Saxer

Senior Member
When I was about 22 a producer gave me the key to his studio for a weekend where he had an EMU II. It had floppy discs and if I remember correctly 2MB of RAM which took several minutes to load. It had an internal sequencer. It could replay only one pattern. For a song with different parts you had to attach the last pattern to the previous. No undo. When recording you had to set the length of the pattern first and before end you had to lift your hands from the keyboard because there was no automatic note off. Otherwise the notes were hanging until restart. I was blown away from these sounds! I was there alone in that studio house at night and it was really scary when I loaded a female choir sound and played some dissonances!
A few weeks later I bought a Commodore 64!
 

Attachments

WhiteNoiz

';...;'
https://vi-control.net/community/threads/history-of-software-samplers.4570/

https://vi-control.net/community/threads/when-did-symphonic-instrument-sounds-become-realistic.71998/

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/sampled-orchestra-part1

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/lost-art-sampling-part-1

Certainly pondered this topic numerous times. No idea if this would be commercially viable considering the vast amount of research, categorisation, ... it would take. Probably a very niche market but I guess you don't know if you don't try... Also considering how many people dabble in this stuff nowadays and looking for historical information or maybe trying to recreate a specific era's sound going around to try to figure this out on their own... Plus, the fact it hasn't really been done (as far as I know). There are tutorials and stuff that could mention things or you could piece things together from here and there but not in a history-heavy context compared to technicalities I feel. Actually, the more I think about it the more viable it seems, but you have to be willing to put in the time. ;P

An alternative would be to create a community wiki or something and let people edit and enrich to their heart's content and everybody can benefit from it pretty much. Maybe let developers edit their own pages or whatever. It's probably not so much if many people do tiny bits. So many places it could go. But yeah, dunno, just an idea...
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
I look at it differently from most. To me, samples were never bad and never good. They are what they are. Back in the day I used a Prophet 2002, Emu Proteus Orchestral, and Kurzweil 1000 PX and I made music I liked. The I started using sample libraries like GOS. and Kirk Hunter and I made music I liked. Now I use all different ones and and I made music I like.
 

TigerTheFrog

Amateur
I was using non-MIDI keyboards in the early 80s, but when when I heard about MIDI I was one of the first to buy a MIDI card at Manny's on 48th Street in NYC. Attaching a cable to the DIN out on the card, I plugged it into MIDI keyboards like the DX7, and my first sampler, the Ensoniq Mirage. The samples came on 3.5 floppy disks. A popular Ensoniq disk was assorted James Brown exclamations. OW!

There were no software instruments at the time and my DAW, the DOS Sequencer Plus from Voyetra, just sent out notes to synths. You could play into it, use a grid, or input traditional notation. It was primitive, but incredibly fast and easy to use. I loaded the program off of the 5.25 floppy into RAM. No hard drive. Then I put in a different floppy to save my songs.
You needed to have a different synth for each instrument. A lot of people got the TX16, so they could have 8 DX7s in a rack. I was glad when the M1 came around, which was multi-timbral. (You could also play it through a music card like a SoundBlaster)

Basically I just fed all my synths and modules into a mixer and into my big TEAC reel-to-reel. Everything like EQ, Compression, and reverb was hardware.

Compared to what I'd been using before MIDI, it was a miracle. Of course I wasn't crazy enough to try to make orchestral music with it, but I knew people who tried.

I should add that at the time not all musicians were happy about the idea. I remember seeng anti-MIDI graffiti on 48th Street.

The rise from the early synths to the sophisticated technology for today's orchestral mockups and pop music is a story that's worth telling. It would make a good TV documentary series. There's too much for a single documentary.
 

Lee Blaske

Senior Member
Denny Jaeger had one of the first, high-quality string sample libraries out there. It was initially only available for use on the NED Synclavier II. Later, the violins from this library were released for Emu. Everything good was super EXPENSIVE back then. There were tape based (Mellotron/Chamberlain) libraries, and some optical libraries in the seventies, and prior, but things didn't really catch on until digital sampling was practical and affordable.
 
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